by George H. Wolfe ‧ RELEASE DATE: N/A
A disarming narrative about people grappling with the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.
Awards & Accolades
In Wolfe’s debut novel, a GI fresh from World War II attempts to acclimate to college life.
In September 1945, U.S. Army Sgt. Dante Larocca has made it through the war with a Silver Star, extensive shrapnel scars, and a lot of experiences he’d rather forget. “Jagged memories thrummed through his brain: dead guys; blood; butchery; a dismantling fear; images of his former ringmaster, General Patton, swearing at some hapless lieutenant.” He spends his first day of civilian life driving around New York City, slashing the tires of an old rival and sneaking his Weimaraner dog into a movie theater. The revelation that his wife has been cheating on him in his absence, and is now pregnant with her lover’s child, leaves him feeling adrift. Using the GI Bill, he decides to study architecture at the University of Alabama. However, the American South is more alien to the Brooklyn native than the capitals of Europe, and he has no idea what to expect there. It turns out he needn’t have worried, as Tuscaloosa and the surrounding countryside are full of other vets looking to start a new chapter—many of them newly minted students like himself—as well as families still grieving the losses of their sons in combat. Most intriguing is Evelyn Curtis, a daredevil crop-duster pilot who flew with the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots during the war. Dante has two clear goals while in Tuscaloosa: to work with a legendary architect on the University of Alabama faculty and to win a prize that will allow him to study in Rome. Dante soon finds out the war isn’t going away anytime soon—not for him or for the other ex-soldiers—and it still has casualties to claim.
Over the course of this novel, Wolfe shows himself to be a skilled storyteller who clearly knows how to craft a scene and how to imbue even minor characters with personality and dimension. Most affecting are passages in which Dante grapples with his memories of the war, as when he stops to visit the family of a dead friend and gives them a sanitized version of his final moments: “It could have been true,” Dante thinks afterward. “It should have been. Anyway, someone who’s never been there can never understand, so why bother?...Buddy Fooshee had died in some parallel universe, a barbaric world alien to this lovely old farmhouse.” The novel doesn’t quite embrace a sense of realism; Dante and Evelyn are too cool and too charismatic, and they come off more like characters in a movie than real people. This makes for intriguing tension when more authentic-feeling moments of PTSD intrude into the narrative, highlighting the tension between society’s view of the Greatest Generation and how they actually lived their lives. Although this is by no means a flawless work—it’s melodramatic at times, far too long, and the entire text is inexplicably rendered in italics—it is a memorable one.A disarming narrative about people grappling with the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.
Pub Date: N/A
Page Count: 392
Publisher: Livingston Press
Review Posted Online: May 17, 2022
Review Program: Kirkus Indie
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by Zadie Smith ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 5, 2023
Intelligent and thoughtful but not quite at this groundbreaking writer’s usual level of excellence.
An obscure English novelist and a missing-heir trial are the real historical springboards for Smith’s latest fiction.
Eliza Touchet is cousin and housekeeper to William Ainsworth, whose novel Jack Sheppard once outsold Oliver Twist but who, by 1868, has been far eclipsed by his erstwhile friend Dickens. Widower William is about to marry his maid Sarah Wells, who has borne him a child. Characteristically, he leaves the arrangements to Eliza, who manages everything about his life except the novels he keeps cranking out, which his shrewd cousin knows are dreadful. The new Mrs. Ainsworth is obsessed with the man claiming to be Sir Roger Tichborne, heir to a family fortune who was reported drowned in a shipwreck. The Claimant, as he is called, is likely a butcher from Wapping, but Sarah is one of many working-class Britons who passionately defend him as a man of the people being done wrong by the toffs. Eliza gets drawn into the trial by her fascination with Andrew Bogle, formerly enslaved by the Tichbornes in Jamaica, who recognizes the Claimant as Sir Roger. A Roman Catholic in Protestant Britain and William’s former lover who's been supplanted by a younger woman, Eliza feels a connection to Bogle as a fellow outsider. (Some pointed scenes, however, make it clear that this sense of kinship is one-sided and that well-intentioned Eliza can be as patronizing as any other white Briton.) Smith alternates the progress of the trial with Eliza’s memories of the past, which include tart assessments of William’s circle of literary pals, who eventually make clear their disdain for his work, and intriguing allusions to her affair with William’s first wife and to her S&M sex with William. (Eliza wielded the whips.) It’s skillfully done, but the minutely detailed trial scenes provide more information than most readers will want, and a lengthy middle section recounting Bogle’s African ancestry and enslaved life, though gripping, further blurs the narrative’s focus. Historical fiction doesn’t seem to bring out Smith’s strongest gifts; this rather pallid narrative lacks the zest of her previous novels’ depictions of contemporary life.Intelligent and thoughtful but not quite at this groundbreaking writer’s usual level of excellence.
Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023
Page Count: 464
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023
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by James McBride ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 8, 2023
If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?
Awards & Accolades
New York Times Bestseller
McBride follows up his hit novel Deacon King Kong (2020) with another boisterous hymn to community, mercy, and karmic justice.
It's June 1972, and the Pennsylvania State Police have some questions concerning a skeleton found at the bottom of an old well in the ramshackle Chicken Hill section of Pottstown that’s been marked for redevelopment. But Hurricane Agnes intervenes by washing away the skeleton and all other physical evidence of a series of extraordinary events that began more than 40 years earlier, when Jewish and African American citizens shared lives, hopes, and heartbreak in that same neighborhood. At the literal and figurative heart of these events is Chona Ludlow, the forbearing, compassionate Jewish proprietor of the novel’s eponymous grocery store, whose instinctive kindness and fairness toward the Black families of Chicken Hill exceed even that of her husband, Moshe, who, with Chona’s encouragement, desegregates his theater to allow his Black neighbors to fully enjoy acts like Chick Webb’s swing orchestra. Many local White Christians frown upon the easygoing relationship between Jews and Blacks, especially Doc Roberts, Pottstown’s leading physician, who marches every year in the local Ku Klux Klan parade. The ties binding the Ludlows to their Black neighbors become even stronger over the years, but that bond is tested most stringently and perilously when Chona helps Nate Timblin, a taciturn Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of his community, conceal and protect a young orphan named Dodo who lost his hearing in an explosion. He isn’t at all “feeble-minded,” but the government wants to put him in an institution promising little care and much abuse. The interlocking destinies of these and other characters make for tense, absorbing drama and, at times, warm, humane comedy. McBride’s well-established skill with narrative tactics may sometimes spill toward the melodramatic here. But as in McBride’s previous works, you barely notice such relatively minor contrivances because of the depth of characterizations and the pitch-perfect dialogue of his Black and Jewish characters. It’s possible to draw a clear, straight line from McBride’s breakthrough memoir, The Color of Water (1996), to the themes of this latest work.If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?
Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023
Page Count: 400
Review Posted Online: May 9, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2023
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